Fearless

This is a song the TCWC is singing this weekend.  It’s one that I find myself listening to a lot these days, actually.

I don’t typically consider myself to be held back by fear.  It isn’t that I don’t HAVE fear; I have PLENTY of fear.  But I just…well, if I let being scared keep me back, I wouldn’t live where I do, I wouldn’t have married my wife, I wouldn’t go climbing three times a week, I wouldn’t do or have done any of the things that make me who I am.  Everything I cherish has only come to me after fear.  And it has always been worth it.

Even when, as Kat Perkins says, “There’s no love without heartbreak.”

I think this song has such a beautiful mix of pride and defiance and awareness of the things that do hold us back.  It reminds me that it’s okay that having courage is hard sometimes, that taking the step past the fear isn’t always going to be easy.  That it’s okay to struggle and be scared.

And that the ability to live in spite of fear, the ability to love in spite of fear, is a choice.  It isn’t often an easy one, and it isn’t often a painless one.

To live fearless is a decision a person has to make a million times a day, and it might not ever get any easier to do.  And it’s okay that it’s hard, it’s okay when it isn’t hard, and it’s okay to be proud of the times it works out right along with the times it doesn’t.

What would I do if I weren’t afraid?  Probably about what I’m doing right now.

And I’d still have bled for it, cried for it, ached and anguished for it.  And never regretted a minute of it.

Tonight, and every moment there’s a spark living in me, I’ll be fearless, too.

Thanks, Kat Perkins.

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The Busy Season

So, I’ll be honest.  I haven’t been writing all that much lately.  But that is less to do with writing and more to do with being REALLY busy.

There are basically two parts of the year in which everything is RUN RUN RUN and I have more projects and deadlines piled up than I know what to do with them.  The lesser of these two happens in the fall, usually heating up around October and lasting to January.  Between choir getting started after summer break (which also means regular weekend gigs for Encore), football (no, it’s not an “obligation” but it DOES take up time!), bracing the house/yard for winter, holiday shopping/hosting, holiday travel, finishing the year’s writing projects, and whatever other weirdness crops up, it’s a hectic time.

But that is a cakewalk compared to the April-to-mid-July period.

There are two major events that happen, thankfully almost 2 months apart, but the prep work for each is brutal and combining them is excruciating.  In the best possible way, of course.  After all, both are things I absolutely LOVE.

They just take up time and brainspace.

The first is the Twin Cities Women’s Choir big year-end gala concert called Divas & Desserts.  This is a massive production of 3 separate nights of shows, 2 full silent auctions, and feeding the guests donated desserts from all over the region.  That would be enough, just singing in 3 shows in one long weekend, but that’s not all I do.  I also organize a special project for the choir which comes due just before the concert, I help set up the auctions and work them after each show, and I also do ANOTHER special project after the concerts to be part of the year-end celebration for the choir.

The first project I can’t really talk about, but the auction work is 2-3 days of hauling stuff to the location, setting up tables, arranging items, and otherwise being helpful to the people in charge.  And then each night after the performance, I bolt offstage and help people check out the items they’ve won either as a runner (going to find whatever-it-is and bringing it to the winner) or a cashier.  I also end up helping with the rest of the nightly cleanup because I’ve always got energy and I love the choir!

The third special project is something else entirely.  For the last 2 years, I’ve helped coordinate a year-end gift/prank/in-joke/walk-of-memories for the choir in the form of a medley.  Basically, I take all the songs we’ve sung that year and I string them together into one occasionally hilarious train of music.  Sarah is the real wizard behind it, as I can craft the general shape, but she’s the one who has to go ahead and score it, complete with transposing it into the same key and a consistent rhythm.  We then grab some friends from various sections in the choir and perform it at the year-end party.

Here’s the first one I ever did (I think last year’s was better and this year’s is better still, but you get the idea!):

So, basically, from now until mid-May, my brain is mostly choir, either singing, writing, practicing, performing, hauling, cleaning, and various other volunteering.

But that’s not all that’s going on, of course.  That would be enough for any reasonable person, but I never claimed to be reasonable and I never, ever will.

I have a much better time having fun!

Because the second thing is CONvergence!

CONvergence is my home convention, which I have attended since somewhere around 2009/2010 and love intensely.  It’s been my gateway into the convention community and also the wider community of geeks and nerds outside just the people who are my friends.  I can honestly say that my whole world is richer for the people I’ve met, the new fandoms I’ve been introduced to, the art I’ve gotten to see and experience.  Nerds are AWESOME.

Anyway, CONvergence in the past has usually meant gearing up to some kind of cosplay with various people.  And, trust me, if you’ve never tried to make a cosplay from scratch, it is NOT easy.  And I’m not overly talented in crafts projects to start with, but fortunately I hang out with awesome people who are, which is how we’ve done as well as we have.  So the last few years, the run-up to CONvergence was a frantic time of buying material or wigs, trying to figure out details, and many, many fittings.  Last year we actually went to a professional to help us out and what she made us was EPIC.  Check out her stuff at her website: Rae Dreamstitcher

Anyway, besides cosplay and hanging out and generally being awesome nerds, Sarah and I also perform as Candles Enough at CONvergence.  I’ll put the video from that gig up on YouTube at some point, but that means that June is basically spent, when Sarah and I aren’t figuring out how to make crafts work, learning new songs and perfecting new parodies.  And while Sarah can play almost anything I throw at her on the guitar, it doesn’t make it easy on either of us!

All that aside, there’s a new wrinkle in this year’s run-up to CONvergence because I have started volunteering heavily with one of the departments that makes the convention run, and there has been a LOT to do in the off-season, which only gets more intense as we get closer.  Monthly meetings, special projects, learning procedures, assisting some amazing people with some genuinely complicated stuff — there’s no end to what needs to be done.  CONvergence isn’t just a party; it’s basically a temporary small town brought together for 4 days, and it needs more infrastructure than an outsider would imagine to keep it running smoothly.

I’ve been trying to help with it as much as I can, but that means that I’ve got brainpower running in new directions when I’m still running in all the normal ones!

All of which is kind of a long way of saying that things are going to get hectic for me soon, more than they are right now.  And I legitimately don’t know when I’ll find time to post weekly or if I’ll even try.  Certainly there won’t be a thing from me over the TCWC concert weekend.  I’ll do my best to put at least SOMETHING up on the site every week until stuff calms down in mid-July, but no promises about length or depth of content.

I’m not holding myself accountable to do any more than I can reasonably do every day.  Which means if I don’t get a chapter written, or I don’t get a blog post up, or I don’t submit a story to a new magazine, I’m trying not to blame myself for it.  I have a lot of things in the air, and I love and cherish all of them.  I have to give myself permission to put some things on hold, or set them down for a time, so I can keep everything else in balance.  And while sometimes writing is a relief from all this, sometimes it adds its own weight to the pile.

So I’m being forgiving and gentle with myself if I’m not meeting my own standards for stuff that doesn’t impact others.  If I go a week without writing, that’s okay.  As long as that week was spent helping out the TCWC or CONvergence or, you know, my actual friends and family.

But you should see my current to-do list.  It’s NUTS.

Even so, it’s all a labor of love.  Many loves, different loves, labors I’ve chosen to take on because of what they have given back to me.  I’m not one bit sorry for being busy, even if it costs me a month of writing.

Because while this busy season is draining and exhausting and frantic, it is also when I am the most engaged in the world outside my head.  It is when I get to be not me-the-writer but me-the-singer.  Me-the-sister-in-song.  Me-the-out-and-out-nerd.  Me-the-reliable-helper.  Me-the-extra-shoulder-to-push-the-wheel-forward.  This is when I get to support two different and almost completely non-overlapping communities which have filled my life with joy.  This is when I get to stand up and give some sweat and strength to people and organizations who deserve them.

To me, even though I’m singing in the concert, the real value comes from supporting the choir before and after and in between; it’s not about performing, but serving.  I am grateful for the Twin Cities Women’s Choir every single day of my life.  At Divas, and through special projects like the medley, I get to repay the kindness and express my gratitude by giving all that I can.

To me, even though I’m having fun at the convention, the real value is in working and supporting others at the convention so they can have even more fun in a safe and respectful environment.  I am grateful for the friends and fandoms and also the support and trust of the nerd community at every turn.  So at CONvergence, I get to pay that trust and support and respect and inclusiveness forward so all other nerds have a home, too.

So, yeah.  I am the best kind of busy right now.  I look forward to it all year, and I relish every minute of the craziness as it unfolds.

(And I will sleep sooooooooo much when it is all over…)

Forgive me if I drop off the map for a while.  I’m out on the roads that carried me this far, making them wider and smoother for everyone else who is looking for them.

You’re welcome to join us.

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Trickster Peter: The Story

Twitter is such an odd duck sometimes.  It’s a platform which is open to vile hate and also moments of genius hilarity.  And sometimes you can just have fun or make a friend.

Lately, I’ve actually been avoiding Twitter just for the sake of preserving my inner calm and mental health.  But, that doesn’t mean Twitter will avoid you in return, for good or ill.  This time, it was for good.

More than a year ago, I made friends with the Real Ghostbusters accounts on Twitter.  We’ve had moments of contention, but overall I really like the characters and I have a ton of respect for the people actually behind the accounts themselves.  And they don’t seem to think I’m a pile of garbage, in spite of us exchanging words — politely, mind — and sometimes very disparate opinions.

Anyway.

RGB Peter is the most most likely to reach out to me from Twitter on occasion, whenever he’s bored, I think.  And this time he specifically asked me for a story.

You have to understand, the reason these guys ever got on my radar, and I on theirs, was because of my RGB fanfic.  We have differing opinions on the concept of fanfic, its legality/ethics, and what we like to read, but what I write has gone over well with them in general.  So to have Peter ask me for a story, intentionally…

Well, I sure wasn’t going to disappoint him.

I was also, I’ll be honest, just fresh off a brain-numbing project at work and I was THINKING in spreadsheets — and not in the helpful way that enables creativity on my part.  So Peter’s request hit me at just the right time, when I was thrilled to think about anything other than math.

So this happened:

I don’t know that I’ll put the story up at my AO3 or Fanfiction.net accounts just because it’s really told best in Tweet format and I have absolutely no ability to embed Tweets or texts or anything else with graphics on AO3 (and ff.net doesn’t even have the capability).  But I thought I’d put it here since he asked me to post it somewhere.

You know?  I worry sometimes that my innate creativity is struggling, that I’m losing my edge.  And I won’t say this is a Nobel-worthy piece of literature.  But I invented it on the fly, thinking while typing (and trying to avoid autocorrects), and it fell together as easily as sunlight from the sky.

If I can tell Peter a slightly funny, slightly quirky, slightly clever story from out of nowhere with my mind dulled to everything but teleinformatics in the time it takes to type it out, I must not be doing too poorly, after all.

And it was fun!

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Meditation

I had a scare with my job status at work this week.  It might have been a one-time thing or it might be the first tremor of an earthquake to come — in which case I apologize in advance if blogging gets even wonkier than usual.

I think most people know that feeling of being blindsided, of a massive, world-changing problem hitting them from out of nowhere.  And even if it resolves itself, there’s this near-miss terror that clings long after the strike has passed, the shaky post-panic of what might have been.

There is nothing about either side of the scenario, the initial blow or the after-effects, that is easy to handle.  For anybody.

I’ve tried many means of coping, but this week I turned to meditation to get me through — and it made all the difference.

I first learned to meditate on accident.  No, seriously, I did.  Meditation was a word I knew, but not a thing I understood or had even had explained to me as a kid.  It was something other people did, people far away in a different world.  But the whole time I was growing up, sometimes I would just need to disappear for a while.  To turn inward and let the world pass from my mind.

In the late 90’s there was a series of CDs released called the “Pure Moods” collection.  It was the kind of album that was regularly advertised on late-night television.  But I was entranced by the quiet, soothing, songs, the rhythms that mirrored a heart-beat and the melodies not meant so much for singing along as for creating a quiet place to exist inside the music.  I became addicted to a few particular songs on the first 2 “Pure Moods” CDs, putting them on endless repeat particularly on long car trips.  I would close my eyes and fall away into the undemanding ambient sounds.

I basically taught myself to meditate to that music.  It took me a long, long time before I could sink into the peace of an empty brain devoid of racing thoughts and fears, but I found that I felt much better, happier, more myself, after doing so.  It probably helped that my history of singing (and asthma) had given me a deep knowledge of my breathing, and I approached it as I approached all things by slowing my breath and letting it carry me along.  I alternated between embracing nothingness of thought and visualizing specific things, depending on what I needed.  I taught myself to fall away into serenity, and to carry that serenity with me when I needed it in the waking world.

As a sometimes-sad, sometimes-scared, always-lost kid, I needed that serenity a lot.

It was much later that I actually learned about meditation, building on what I had created for myself and refining it to a more common version; I don’t think most meditative practices involve visualizing flying through a nebula, but I sure did before I knew any differently.  It was even longer until I learned about mantras or focus objects or how very widespread the practice of meditation is, with various flavors, in so many world religions and philosophies.

Unsurprisingly, my path to meditation was not so different from many others trod thousands of years before me.

When I find that I am starting to sleep poorly at night, when I have trouble focusing on things that normally give me great joby, when I can’t stop the mental twitchiness of concentrated anxiety, I turn back to meditation.  Even in the middle of the day, even for no more than a minute.  A moment of stillness, of mindfulness, it can be more restoring to my mind and my body than an hour-long nap.

I generally meditate in three different ways, depending on what I need the most.

First is the kind of meditation that is easiest to do anywhere, for any period of time.  It is silent and involves only my own head.  I close my eyes and I visualize a circle.  I mentally trace the circle clockwise, around and around, until there is nothing at all in my awareness but the shape of the circle.  Then I let it go and settle into true quiet.  I practice this sort of meditation every time I’m waiting for something and need to relax, like right before an appointment at the chiropractor or when about to go on stage.

Second is the meditation I taught myself way back as a kid, the kind tied to music.  There are lots and lots of songs that work for this, but the two which have always, always worked for me are “The Cradlesong (DaWa)” (remix) by Sacred Spirit and “Leaves on the Seine” by David Lanz.  The former is not what most people would reach for in order to induce quiet and peace, I think.  It has a lot going on in it, from singing and drums to a cello line that weaves throughout the peace.  But that was the first song I ever trained myself to meditate to, and when I drop into it, I drop completely.  I can put that song on repeat and by the 2-minute mark my mind is empty and I am elsewhere and nowhere.  The David Lanz piece is one I discovered at summer camp around the same time.  It’s a quiet piano melody that is more in line with other meditation music, though it has its own shape and structure, too.  Between these two songs, whichever is needed at the time, I have everything I need to block out the world and seek silence.

Third is the only meditation that has ever worked for me with chanting a mantra.  I think it’s because I’m a singer — it’s incredibly, incredibly hard for me to speak or sing something and turn my brain off.  I’m supposed to keep my brain sharp when singing!  But there is one I actually sang in concert with the TCWC and it carried me away from the first time we rehearsed it.  I think you can settle into any part of the song as a mantra, but for me, I’ve always felt the most connected to the chant of the goddesses’ names that opens it.  This is the TCWC’s version of “Ancient Mother”  (and I might be singing on this track — I don’t remember).  Sometimes the names are a bit of a tongue-twister, but once I got them down, they just flow out of me.

When I had my job scare in the office, I grabbed my iPod and turned to Ancient Mother.  I didn’t sing out loud — that would NOT have helped — but I mouthed the names several times.  I cycled through “Leaves on the Seine” and “The Cradlesong” too, letting them pull me farther and farther away from everything that was tearing at me.

By the time the meeting came around which could have gone so, SO badly, I was calm.  I was no less concerned about the safety of my position or my income, but I was level-headed.  I was fully myself, rational and not driven by anxiety.  I could speak like myself, I could maintain my perspective and my ease.  I faced the possibility of disaster as if it were no different from a chat over coffee and Diet Coke.

In the end, the job thing is going to be okay.  But even if it isn’t, even if things take a sudden turn for the worst, I’ll be okay.  I actually can handle the worst, even if it doesn’t feel like it all the time.

And if I can’t, if I face a moment where I just cannot pull my head and my heart together to cope, I’ve got an endless, restorative silence inside where I can find it.  A deep ocean of peace and serenity that gives back all the things that fear and uncertainty steal.  It’s no farther than the inside of my eyelids.

Meditation doesn’t necessarily work for everyone, and it doesn’t work for everything (for example, meditating in the middle of a house fire is probably not wise), but it works for me when I need it.  And to think!  I might have taken a lot longer to get onto this path if it wasn’t for late-night commercials playing lovely, soothing music to an angsty kid.

It just figures that my late-night insomnia as a kid led me to a practice which has helped me avoid insomnia as an adult, to say nothing of preventing panic when the world falls apart.

Good job, kid me.  And thanks.

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I think we can file this under “Unqualified Success”

Critics who treat adult as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.

— C.S. Lewis, from “On Three Ways of Writing for Children”

Anyone who has read much on this blog or who knows me outside of it knows that my love for writing and, of course, reading, does not only extend to “great literature.”  It extends deeply into stuff which ranges from “published but silly” to “fanfiction and supremely silly.”  I’ve read Shakespeare and Ovid and Bronte, and loved them, but I’ve also read stories written by 13-year-olds about cartoon characters and loved those, too.

Sometimes a person just needs to love what they love without feeling bad about it.

And that’s not just about people of varying gender expressions.

It’s about EVERYTHING.

When I was 5, I was introduced to the cartoon Rainbow Brite.  It’s a perfect show for kids in that age-range, and it hooked me completely.  But what came as a great consternation to my parents was that I CONTINUED to love it long past age 5.  They felt it was too childish for me, not advanced enough for my growing age, intelligence, and awareness.  They worried that it would stunt me to love something aimed at barely-out-of-toddlerdom.

What they couldn’t understand was that the only thing which could stunt me was to prevent me from loving the thing I loved.  And still love.  Though differently.

Rainbow Brite is not epic, Nobel-worthy work, but it has great value.  It was the first cartoon I ever saw as a child which was uncompromising in its feminism and egalitarianism.  Rainbow goes on a quest as ambitious as any Frodo or Taren or Luke Skywalker or Aladdin or Indiana Jones.  She defeats an evil monster on her own and wins rule over a kingdom which she is charged to defend against further evil.  She accepts the responsibility for caring for the planet Earth as a daily job — while her friends are playing games or having fun, she goes to her daily work of keeping the Earth beautiful and filled with joy.  The only times her gender ever comes up is in contrast to a few boy characters who argue that her competence is somehow lessened by her being a girl, which she promptly proves to be wrong.  Rainbow outsmarts various villains, enters into magical “combat” without backup, saves the universe, and continues to carry the mantle of leader and ruler and joy-bringer.  She has friends who help her, she has allies who fight with her, but she never needs to be saved or rescued from the harshness she herself is sworn to defeat.

Yes, of course, sometimes there are dumb episodes or setups.  Yes, of course, there are aspects of the story which can be problematic (or downright confusing for anyone who actually tries to reason out her capacity to ride a horse in the actual void of space at speeds that would make Star Trek engineers faint).  Yes, it is still a cartoon aimed at little girls.

But it has great value.  It set me up to believe that if you work hard, if you are willing to sacrifice and do the right things, if you hold onto joy and hope, you can do anything.  Even if you’re a girl.  Is there any doubt why I loved it?  And why it stuck with me for so long?

More and more, mainstream movies and media are realizing that it is not only possible to make childrens’ programming accessible and enjoyable to adults, but it is profitable.  It’s not just about dropping one or two jokes into a movie to shore up parents stuck watching something with their toddlers.  It’s about making art which works on various levels for everyone.  Some of the best movies of the last few years are traditionally for kids, but have been touted and loved by adults; Pixar in particular is incredibly good at this.  Think about Up, Inside Out, Toy Story 3.  Yes, movies for the PG crowd.  But it was adults who bawled their eyes out while their kids laughed at the fart jokes.

If you investigate the fanfiction I write, you’ll find it’s mostly cartoons.  Some anime, which has much fuzzier lines of adult vs kid content, and some live-action “grown up” shows, but mostly I stick to American cartoons.  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is one of my most active fandoms.  Mighty Max, a show literally invented to sell plastic toys to 8-year-old boys is one of the closest things to my heart — ever.  I have written stories for Rainbow Brite (of course I have) and Teddy Ruxpin, and I’ve spent time carving out an entire mythology to go along with their worlds to explain what threads are left hanging by the originals.

The fact of my deep love for what one could easily call “childish” stuff does not, however, mean it is wrong.  The fact that these cartoons for kids not out of kindergarten give me profound, life-affirming joy, is not wrong or demeaning or indicative of some kind of immaturity.

Because really?  All it means is that these things have what I need in the moment I need it.

Sometimes you want complexity, deep political messages, complex sexual tensions.  There’s lots of places to get those between books, TV, movies, and the internet.  Sometimes you need something gritty and too real and bloody just to help you see your own world clearly.

But I think there’s a great mistake in thinking ONLY those things can entertain, can offer value, can hold you up.  If you count on Game of Thrones to alleviate all your worries about the real world, I fear you’re going to be in trouble.  GOT may have many amazing messages and things to say, but it is not necessarily going to be a comfort.  Not all the time.

Sometimes, comfort is what you need more than anything.

If it hasn’t been obvious from the last few weeks of my posts, I’ve really been struggling here in 2017 with my anxieties and depression.  I’ve swung back and forth between an empty apathy even to the things I truly and always love, and a dark despair edging close to danger.  I’ve had enormous difficulty finding the clarity and calm inside myself to write, to sing, to want to engage any part of me that’s real in a world I don’t want to be in.  To live creatively, you have to live with your chest torn open and your heart bared to every slice of wind and ice and iron that flies around in the wider world.  I don’t think it’s possible to be an artist and to also be immune to the world in which your art emerges.

At this time in 2016, I had written about 143,500 words.  In 2015 I was at 118,650; in 2014 I was around 131,260.  This year?  2017?  I’m somewhere around 76,000 — a little bit more than half what I did last year.  And they aren’t all complete stories, either; for every one that I’ve actually finished, I have another I began but just couldn’t pull all the way together.  It’s been enormously frustrating and vexing.  It isn’t a block and it isn’t lack of interest or discipline.  This is anxiety and depression, pure and simple.

And for me, for me personally, the only cure I’ve ever had to get me writing even in the midst of my worst downturn, is a shock of joy and love.

Early in 2015, I was in a dark place.  It was different from here, tinged with far more depression and far less existential anxiety, but it was no less damaging or dangerous.  And yet I still wrote 118,650ish words in the first months of the year.  How?  By writing in fandoms that fed me when nothing else did.  More than anything else, I needed Donatello and Quatre and Max.  I needed them like I needed air, and nothing else worked.  I needed them because they fed bright happiness into the dark well that was dragging down everything else inside me.

This year, I turned to them again, but they just didn’t hold me.  I wrote a bit and petered out just as quickly.  What I needed this year was something else, something new.  Something I had yet to find.

So I floundered.  I pushed and tried to write in familiar fandoms and unfamiliar ones.  I let my new discovery of and love for the show Leverage carry me for a while.  I went back to my TTSA ‘verse and put an AU spin on it so I could put psychics into Jaegers.  I started several works that have been on my to-do list because they helped bandage up the parts of me that are bleeding.  It wasn’t enough, but it was something.

Anybody with depression or anxiety will tell you that something, even if it isn’t halfway to everything, can keep you afloat.  Even a twig is better than nothing if it’s all you have to keep you from drowning.  I made a basket of my twigs and I clung to them.

Because eventually, if you hold on long enough and keep fighting the water and keep looking for alternatives, eventually a life raft will come into view.  You might have to break yourself in half to reach it, but when you do, you’ll get out.  You’ll be okay.  You’ll have something strong enough and stable enough to carry you through the storm.

I’ll try to talk about that part more some other time.

Because now, mostly thanks to the FX channel running a bunch of wacky movies together on a night when I was too listless to do anything else but sit and stare, I have found something new to hold onto, something new to cherish and fill me with effortless joy.

Yes.  It is stupid.  It’s a movie fandom made for 8 year-olds.  It’s a movie that didn’t even do particularly well at the box office or with the reviews it received.

But it struck just the right tone, hit all the right emotional notes and dramatic points for me.  It made me laugh; it filled me with ideas; and I’ve watched it 2.5 times in 3 days and can’t wait to watch it again.

As with all things that I find I suddenly love, that also meant my creativity burst open and a world of various new headcanons emerged.

(The last time this happened was when I discovered the TV show The Sentinel and I promptly wrote 4 novels and 14 short stories, almost 400,000 words in 8 months.)

Now, it’s not impossible that this new love will not prove quite enduring enough to hold out and the depression and anxiety will return all too soon.  But right now this child’s movie is exactly what I need to love in order to breathe.  I don’t care anymore if it’s “good” or not by some outside scale.  It’s good for me.  It’s holding me up.  It’s making me FEEL again.

So I’m not going to knock it.  Sometimes a person just needs to love what they love without feeling bad about it.

Right now, I just need to love a competent, charming, genius father and his clumsy, loyal, struggling-for-confidence son.

That love is keeping me together.  And I never would have found it if I had limited myself to “adult” shows and movies and books.  I never would have devoured every fanfic written about these characters I now adore and found myself desperately wanting more.  I found my mind firing at speed again, my heart pounding, and, of course, sighing with dramatic frustration as I realized that these ideas are not something I can tie up neatly in a oneshot.  Looks like I have another novel on the horizon.

There’s another C.S. Lewis quote for this part:

I wrote the books I should have liked to read. That’s always been my reason for writing. People won’t write the books I want, so I have to do it for myself.

–As quoted in C.S. Lewis, by Roger Lancelyn Green

Because when you really love something and it changes you, you want as much of it as you can get.  And if you create as a default approach to the world, it means you write the stories you want and need to exist for you to have.  I have wanted and needed so many stories, and they litter my fanfic portfolio.

(And sometimes other people need those stories, too.  That novel I’mma have to write at some point here?  It’s at least as much for Sarah, my wife and (in this case) more importantly, my beta.  I’m not the only one glomming onto this fandom.  I’m not the only one being fed happiness and betterment by it.  Which means she wants more of it, too.  And I can deny her absolutely nothing.  Blame any subsequent writings on her, if you would.  But credit them to me, of course.)

Rainbow Brite kept me together as a child and as I exited childhood, the example and beacon of the kind of person I could be if I lived without fear.  Mighty Max taught me to think about facing reality and having the courage to keep going even when there was blood on the floor and death on the horizon (yes, it’s for little boys but it is DARK; there’s a reason the Nightmare Fuel section on TVTropes for this show is FULL).  What began as youthful fannish squee became something real, something that influenced the way I think about myself and the life I can build.  Something that held me so completely, I could only add to it, create more of it, and offer it to anyone else with the same love and need.

I don’t know yet where this one will take me — I’m still in the fannish squee stage.  But it WILL take me somewhere, somewhere better than where I am right now.

And I haven’t cared about loving something meant for children since I was a child myself and holding onto the things that brought me joy even then.  Is it too young for me?  I dunno.  Is JOY too young for a person?  Helpless giggles at terrible puns?  How about simple, uncomplicated discussions about the meaning of family?

Sometimes a person just needs to love what they love without feeling bad about it.

I have a deep regard for this dog and his boy, and I finally feel better.

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St Patrick’s Day

I have a strange relationship with this particular celebration of Irish heritage and also green doughnuts.  Which, by the way, — no.  Seriously.  We have green milk, green rivers, green beer.  Not EVERYTHING needs to be green today!

Anyway.

When you’re born and raised anywhere near the East Coast of the US, you have at least some connection to St Patrick’s Day.  I remember being in elementary school and there being a regular game of pinching anyone who didn’t wear green.  I also remember one friend of mine getting out of a day full of pinching by virtue of having green eyes.  Then we had green cookies and milk at lunch and made shamrock cut-outs and, you know, all the kid stuff.  I don’t think I knew how much else went on, from dyeing the Chicago River green to the parades and general revelry, until later, though.

I do have a fair amount of Irish heritage, though nobody seems to know exactly how much because both sides of my family approach any study of genealogy like they are considering riding on some sort of horse/cougar mix — they’d just rather not.  But my grandmother can tell stories about the Irish women she heard stories about back in our bloodline somewhere.

My other connection to St Patrick’s Day comes from a religious source by way of YA fantasy.

Among the most formative books I ever read as a kid was the Time Quintet series by Madeleine L’Engle.  Particularly the first three to be published — A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, and A Swiftly Tilting Planet — made their marks in my mind and my soul.  The last of these is the adventure of Charles Wallace trying to rewrite history so that the world can be pulled back from the brink of nuclear disaster.

Along the way, he makes use of what the book calls “Saint Patrick’s Rune” which is really a poem derived from the more famous Lorica, or Saint Patrick’s Breastplate.  It reads:

At Tara in this fateful hour,
I place all Heaven with its power,
And the sun with its brightness,
And the snow with its whiteness,
And the fire with all the strength it hath,
And the lightning with its rapid wrath,
And the wind with its swiftness along its path,
And the sea with its deepness,
And the rocks with their steepness,
And the Earth with its starkness;
All these I place
By God’s almighty help and grace
Between myself and the powers of darkness.

This rune has been with me for the majority of my life, and I’ve always found it helpful to recite in times of stress or irrational fear, like taking off in an airplane or facing down a bad storm.  Whether it has any empirical effect, it’s always helped me center myself, reorient myself in the scope of the world, and find the inner balance to keep going.

So I owe a lot of inner peace and fortitude, especially in my younger years, to Saint Patrick of Ireland.

I’m not nor ever have been Catholic, but I feel gratitude that one person of that order penned (or, allegedly penned) the full Lorica, which is a powerful, swelling recitation that, to a person of the Christian faith, must be like sounding the ultimate anthem of courage and victory.  Even I am moved by its power and its intensity.  Get that thing going, rev it up, and you could take on the world.  For me, it’s been a light of prayer even when I didn’t pray, and I’m grateful for that.

So, between my innate, if muddled, Irish ancestry and my personal appreciation for this work of Saint Patrick, I “do” St Patrick’s Day.  I wear green, usually various pieces of different shades of green.  I will not eat the appalling green doughnut or bread or whatever awful thing someone’s stuck dye in this time, though.  There are LIMITS, you guys.

(Also, I don’t, I DO NOT, attempt a Lucky Charms-like accent or throw around the ‘faith and begorrah’ nonsense because YUCK.  Anti-Irish racism was (and still is?) a thing, you know.  So is cultural appropriation.  And that’s BEFORE you start tossing around problematic stereotypes.)

This is my perfect example, though, of my expression of St Patrick’s Day:


On the one hand, my American, commercialized version in the bow I actually do have in my hair.  My proof of being what amounts to a “Plastic Paddy,” since I truly never have been to Ireland and it would be disingenuous for me to claim to *be* Irish, but my pride in the Green all the same.  And on the other is this pendant which was given to me by my grandmother which she received from one of her own Irish relatives.  The pendant is pure nickel and is based on an Anglo-Saxon or Hiberno Norse long cross penny from a thousand years ago.  Though nobody can really figure out what it says.  The words don’t QUITE match up to the originals.  But this pendant was carried by my bloodline long enough to make it an heirloom, to make it real.  Even if it isn’t “genuine” by any technical definition.

A person can be a lot of things.  I am American, but I am proud to have even a trace of Irish ancestry.  I wear my green in ignorance of what it really means to a person actually from/in Ireland, but I also wear the memory of my family which traces its roots to somewhere in Ireland’s history.  The affinity is real, even if the lineage is lost.  And the respect is real either way.

Happy St Patrick’s Day, everyone!  Enjoy it however you like.

…Even if you like green beer and greener doughnuts.

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Defiance the Dragon

The last couple of weeks have been pretty tough on my end.  I’ve had everything from a hospital scare with an elderly and beloved family member to a financial crisis to a stomach-bug-thing in the last 10 days or so.  The accumulated stress of which, as if my bipolar depression decided not to be outdone by circumstances, made everything harder; the nights when I wasn’t imitating my insomniac high school experience were disrupted by nightmares that had me waking up sobbing.

Hey, it happens to everybody sometimes.  With or without any kind of bipolar downswing, depression, anxiety, or anything else that might push its way into the situation.  We all have those periods of accumulated suckitude that our psyches use to beat us to a pulp.

The worst stuff always does seem to happen when we are least able to deal with it.

I was going to write a whole post about how I specifically cope with stuff like this, but the more I wrote, the more it took out of me.  Like giving too much blood, even going through the process of my emerging from the deep well of helpless negativity was threatening to put me back there.  So I stopped.

I will write about it someday.  I’ve got lots to say.  But I’d be a pretty poor model of how one system of coping with depression can work if I actually increased the problem with the telling of it.  I have learned to trust my inner This Shit Is Not Helping Meter.

So, instead, I’m going to focus on something fun.

I have a dragon!Her name is Defiance and I got her from Rocky Mountain Dragons as part of a Kickstarter.  Sarah got one as well, red instead of blue, which she has named Trinket.

The dragons work as small carrying-packs for a cell phone and an ID and not a lot else, but that’s about all we really need for wandering a Con so that’s what we’re going to do.  I’ve already taken Defiance to a leaders’ meeting for CONvergence (more on that some other time) and she received a fair amount of appreciation and got at least one hug.

The only drawback to the pack design is the strap, which feels like it’s cutting into my throat when I wear it strapped under my armpit.  I can affix it lower, tie it to my belt or something, but then it gets tight on my shoulder and sternum.  What I really need to do is find a way of snapping it into whatever cosplay or something I’m wearing so she wouldn’t just have to hang on me.  If I figure it out, there will be pictures.

I’ve always loved dragons.  I also love unicorns, gryphons, sea serpents, and every other magical/mythological creature (who isn’t inherently evil — not a fan of evil, generally).  Defiance is a little bigger and built differently from the fire lizards of Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series, but there is a definite similarity.  The big dragons of Pern are near-human intelligent and telepathic, forming lifelong bonds with their riders.  The fire lizards, their tiny cousins, are less intelligent and more empathic than telepathic, but they still bond to people and can share memories and feelings.  In the same way, the dragons of the How To Train Your Dragon movie/TV franchise makes dragons more than animals with the mental capacity of a dopey cow.  Toothless is almost as clever as Hiccup, and all the dragons are able to interpret human speech after very little exposure (except Hookfang, who mainly ignores Snotlout; but, hey, I’d ignore him most of the time, too).  They are not pets — they are friends.  Partners.  Companions.

Assuming I can situate her comfortably on my shoulder, Defiance will be my constant companion for CONvergence.

When we were naming our dragons, Sarah opted for Trinket because it seemed like a good name for a fire lizard-sized dragon who might be useful for carrying little things and messages, but flighty and too curious as well.  She’ll carry the little one at CONvergence sometimes, too, or keep it at her side when she’s on shift on the Bridge.  Trinket will be her familiar, her teddy bear protector and her stuffed co-conspirator.  And keeper of her room key, probably.

My Defiance is a little different.

I see my dragon as being closer to the daemons of the His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman — an extension of myself as well as a sidekick.  I named Defiance with that in mind, after one of the six pillars of my basic personality/attitude/mental attributes.  I think I am made up of some kind of muddy confluence of honor, loyalty, kindness, courage, endurance, and defiance.  These are the things that help me thrive, that give me strength and energy, that hold me up and sparkle the brightest.

Sometime I’ll go into what they really mean to me and how I mean them about myself.

But of these, Defiance is the one I wanted represented outside myself, especially in places like CONvergence.

I am a rebel, born and undaunted.  Which is hilarious considering that I never did ANY of the supposedly normal teenage rebellion things.  I never tried to miss my curfew, never wanted a tattoo or to dye my hair, never pushed the normal social/parental boundaries.  And yet HOLY CRAP did I ever push boundaries.  Just…not the usual ones.

Why should I be conventional in my revolution?  Why would anyone, given the choice?

Now, I’m not suggesting I am a jerk who fights all rules JUST BECAUSE and plays the constant devil’s advocate or contrarian at every possible turn.  I’m perfectly happy to go along with things that make sense or are inherently healthy or follow with some kind of sensible logic.

But give me a rule “because that’s how it is” when I can poke easy holes in it?  Nope.

This pretty much extends to EVERYTHING.

A dear friend once made a mix CD for me back in college and she named it “Willful Defiance of the Box.”  And I have adopted that as one of my proudest monikers.  The only boxes that hold me are the ones I choose for myself, on my own terms, in my own time/way.  Anything else?  Fuck it.  I will joyfully, happily, gigglingly ignore the rest.  I might not do it in someone’s face or in a cruel way, but you’ll look to see how things are and — whoops, there I am busily being myself and defying expectations again.

I find that if I don’t let myself defy what binds me, I’m too easily confined.

CONvergence is an amazing, soul-affirming yearly pilgrimage, but things will be different for me from now on, having officially joined the leadership of the Con.  And I know I can do what will be asked of me, I know I can help people and I can be the kind of volunteer that will make things better in the end.  But sometimes I get lost in that press of people, thousands of others who are taller or more experienced or prettier or more confident.  I look into the crowd and I forget to hold myself up, my head raised and my shoulders back and my certainty undaunted.

Defiance is going to remind me.

She will be my shield, my physical, constant affirmation that I am at the right place at the right time and I can trust myself.  She will be my grounding reality that just because it would be easier to back down doesn’t mean I should when I really, really shouldn’t.  She will be the external reminder of the defiance that lives in me while unchallenged so I keep burning through the first real challenge.

It’s a slightly cheap psychological trick, but it works.  With Defiance literally perched like a chip on my shoulder, it will help me hold onto that part of myself when uncertainty or discomfort arrives.  She will help me be the best version of myself.  And she’ll be an ice-breaker and a conversation piece as well, all useful when you send an unconfident introvert into a sea of strangers.

Plus, then I get to carry a dragon around!

I will happily admit that I love Defiance with the same love that I had for my stuffed animals as a small child and that I’ll probably hug her just the same on some sort of frequent basis.  But that’s the great thing about CONvergence — I’m probably not the only person who will want to cuddle a dragon that weekend!

Though I will have to explain that I didn’t name Defiance for a class of ships from Star Trek.  That’s pure coincidence.

The only star I named Defiance for is the one I follow from inside my heart.

And you know what?

Having a dragon familiar is seriously cool.  Nerdy and adorable, but cool.

Everything’s better with dragons.

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Clouds of Words and Music

Sometimes I think I learn more about music, or writing, or any other kind of art only by putting it in the context or terms of another.  When poetry is reinterpreted in a song, when a painting inspires a novel, or any other way of transforming art, you really get to see it differently.

(Fanfiction is exactly this, in fact.  Taking an original work and spinning it around, building from it, expanding it, it changes the boundaries from where the source began and reveals all its hidden glory.)

Anyway.

I’ve been fascinated by word-clouds since I came across the concept years ago.  Take a bunch of text and plop it into a nifty generator and you get a visual representation of what words are repeated most often.  Sometimes it reveals trends, like the ones that people make using famous speeches to find themes or political buzzwords.  But it always reveals the heart of what is behind the art.  There are some beautiful word-clouds out there for Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech, or a very neat one in an appropriate shape for “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe.

When you glance at these, you can see the words that carry the most weight, the words that are repeated, emphasized, and without which the piece loses all meaning.

It’s also something of a gut-check, I think.  If you write a poem you intend to be about love and find out that you use the word “salad” the most often, unless a salad is your central metaphor, it’s possible you missed your subject matter.

Sometimes I grab the song lyrics of an album I’ve been keeping on repeat and feed them into an online word-cloud just to see what comes out.  Do I notice that I’ve been feeling down lately and the core words which are most prominent are less than hopeful?  Have I totally missed that half the songs on this one CD are actually about otters?

It’s a neat way to see what you might have missed.

So I decided to do one for Candles Enough.  I pulled 13 of our songs and stuffed them into a free, online word-cloud courtesy of https://www.jasondavies.com/wordcloud/.

The word-cloud contains the lyrics from the following songs currently on YouTube:  Fairytale, Jagged, The Nerd Song (You Could Also Call Me An Enthusiast), Trial By Fire, What I Lost in Spring

And the following songs not on YouTube (and, in some cases, not even completely set to music yet!):  Beggar, Binary/Shenandoah, Bring Me Home, Crow Song, Love Shall Not Fail, Steady And Free, Tomorrow, Humanist Hymn of the Supernal (Spiritual, Not Religious)

Here is the result:

How you interpret it is up to you, I guess.  As for me?  I see a lot of love, a lot of welcome, a lot of joy and hope.  Which means I guess we’re doing something right with our songwriting!

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